February 25, 2014

Chocolate Crème Fraîche Cake (a.k.a. the BEST chocolate cake EVER)


I always tell people that my mom has been a great cook for as long as I can remember, but if I’m being honest, her cooking only entered my life when I was in the fourth grade or so. I still remember the birthday cake she made me for my eleventh birthday. Before that, I’d only ever had store-bought birthday cakes with elaborate (but tasteless) frosting decorations. My mom’s version was the first cake I remember enjoying — a dream of a chocolate cake, layered with light and fluffy, hand whipped 7-minute frosting.

Looking back, that first homemade birthday cake seems pretty symbolic to me. It was made in the first summer after my family had relocated from the Philippines to the Netherlands. For reasons that were unclear to me at the time, my mom had quit her leadership role at a consulting firm in the lively and bustling Manila to move us out to The Hague, a beautiful but incredibly sleepy city in the Netherlands.


I didn’t mind the move so much. In the Hague, my parents gave me much more independence than they ever had in Manila. I’ve already written about how I would bike around the city by myself, but my favorite part was that I now went home to my mom and her homemade meals instead instead of an empty house. In the Philippines, my mom often worked late and I ate meals cooked by my nanny, often times just by myself. My mom made wonderful renditions of Filipino dishes that my previous nanny’s cooking could not match.

But even though I was young, I could see that the move had a different effect on my mom. She would sometimes snap at me and my siblings for asking her to do things like buy things for school projects, or she’d cry while doing household chores like mopping the floor or folding our laundry. She’d never do it in front of me and my siblings, of course — only when she thought she was alone, like that time I’d accidentally walked into my parents’ room after coming home early from school.


At the time I never understood why — I was much too young to have analyzed the situation, much less have a candid conversation with my mother about why she was crying. But now, as a 26-year-old who’s spent the last few years struggling to find the right career path, it’s only just beginning to dawn on me the extent of my mother’s sacrifices. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I’ve never been a stranger to my mom’s successful career. According to family friends and my mom’s old co-workers, my mom’s name is still spoken with reverence at her old consulting company. And I know that it’s what paid for my private school education from lower school to university, what enabled me to see the places that I’ve seen, and allowed us to live in the beautiful houses that we have.

But honestly, until I started working, I didn’t realize how friggin’ hard it was to get all the things my mother used to have in her career. Things like an extremely generous salary at a job that you love, in a position where your colleagues admired and respected you. I mean, it took me years to just figure out what career path I wanted to go on! And even though I’m on that career track now, it came at a price: a couple years of depression, time wasted at other jobs, a title demotion and an initial salary cut. So yeah, I now understand that to get to where my mother was at the peak of her career, she must have worked her butt off. And then, at the height of it, she walked away. Why?


Because as much as she loved her job, she loved her children more. And she wanted to give us the opportunity to live abroad and get the best education she could give us, which at the time was in Europe and the United States. She knew that moving to those places meant sacrificing her high-powered, prestigious job in Manila and walking away all its ritz to become a household mom who did our chores. And even though she knew it was going to be hard, she did it because she knew it was the best thing for me and my siblings.

And although I’ll still never begin to understand how lonely and angry those first few years must have been for her, there are no words can express how grateful I am for what she did. Her decision allowed us children to travel the world, receive the best education we could get, and grow up comfortably without any wants or debts.


So happy birthday, mom. This is the best cake that I’ve ever made, and it’s for you. For being such a wonderful role model, and for teaching me about all the important things in life through your past and present words and actions.


Some baker's notes:
  • No cake flour in the pantry? No problem. I adapted this cake from one of my favorite bloggers, The Vanilla Bean Blog, and the original recipe calls for 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour. Feel free to use those measurements instead!

  • The cake batter will seem like it's too liquidy and that something's gone wrong, but don't panic — it's just how it is. Trust the recipe!

  • Can't find crème fraîche? You can also substitute the crème fraîche with plain ol' sour cream. It'll be just as tasty, but not quite as fancy.

  • The frosting is very, very forgiving. It's best to work with the frosting when it's still warm, as its easy to spread and create beautiful, smooth textures on the cake. The frosting will quickly cool as it spreads. If you find that the frosting has solidified and has the consistency of cold butter, pop it in the microwave for 5-10 second intervals until it warms up again. 


Chocolate Crème Fraîche Cake
(a.k.a. The Best Chocolate Cake EVER)

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Ingredients

For the Chocolate Cake:
(makes 2 eight-inch layers)
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups natural unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature and gently whisked
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed, strong hot coffee 

For the Chocolate Crème Fraîche Frosting:
(makes around 2 1/2 cups, enough for one cake)
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half, at room temperature

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Recipe

For the Chocolate Cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Prepare two 8 inch round cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with parchment paper circles. Spray the top of each parchment circle and set aside.

  2. In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups cake flour, 2 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix on low speed until throughly combined.

  3. In a separate medium bowl, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup oil, 2 eggs, and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Whisk together gently until just combined. 

  4. With the mixer on its lowest speed, slowly add the wet ingredients (from the 3rd step) to the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step). Add 1 cup hot coffee. Continue stirring on low speed until just combined, before stopping the mixer and using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix into the batter. The batter will seem really liquidy, but again, this is normal. 

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few crumbs and the tops of each cake bounce with a spongelike texture when poked gently with your finger. When the cakes are ready, remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes, before turning out to cool. Remove parchment paper and allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

For the Chocolate Crème Fraîche Frosting:
  1. Combine 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 1/2 cup unsalted butter and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl sitting on top of a pan with simmering water. Melt completely, using a heatproof rubber spatula to stir occasionally to release heat and fully combine the ingredients.

  2. Once the chocolate and butter have fully melted, remove from heat. Whisk the mixture gently to release more heat, before whisking in 1/2 cup crème fraîche and 1/4 cup half-and-half. Continue whisking until both the crème fraîche and half-and-half are fully integrated and the frosting is a uniform dark chocolate color. Set the frosting aside for 15 minutes to cool some more, giving the frosting a gentle whisk or two every 5 minutes to allow heat to escape. After 15 minutes, use the frosting. At first, it will seem too liquidy, but the frosting will quickly cool as it is spread throughout the cake. Work quickly to frost the cake before the frosting cools completely — it will harden as it cools. 
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30 comments:

  1. This is such a beautiful post and tribute to your mum. Happy birthday Michelle's mummy :)

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  2. This looks absolutely delicious! Happy birthday to your mom!

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  3. Michelle, where do I begin? This was one of the most beautiful posts I've read in a long time. And it resonates so deeply with so many of us, I'm sure, who are just starting out in careers or who are just simply daughters, too. (And who love chocolate.) Thank you so much for such thoughtful words and for making me stop and just appreciate. Love this.

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  4. !!!! This looks amazing. I must make your version of this soon.
    And, such lovely lovely words. Moms are pretty amazing. xo

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  5. I love this post. It made me call my mom to tell her I love her too. Happy birthday to your mom, and what a super mom she is!

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  6. Dear Michelle, such loving thoughts and words spoken from the heart. As a young mother, I had self doubts whether my parenting skills are at par. While I have the educational degrees, nothing have ever prepared me to be a mother. Reading your post, it somehow gave me validation that I must have done something right. As your mom, you are my crowning glory and I am so proud of what you have become and still becoming. My best present ever.

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  7. Best ever?! This cake looks sinfully rich and delicious. Have to try it sometime!

    Graham / Glazed & Confused

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  8. Hi Michelle! Another great post, as usual. I have one quick question, do you have any suggestions for the type of coffee that should be used? Thank you!

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    1. Hi there,

      I used Stumptown Hair Bender coffee (which is local to Portland, but easily available in other big cities), brewed strongly by way of a French press. But you can use any kind of coffee you want! Hope that helps.

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  9. Beautiful post! Brought a tear to my eye (goodness, hormones)! And of course, now I want a piece of chocolate cake.

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  10. You had me at "best chocolate cake ever"! I will def be trying this recipe next time I make a chocolate cake. And happy birthday to your mother! Lovely post! :)

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  11. This was such a lovely post and such a wonderful tribute to your mother (and, indeed, mothers everywhere). And this is one super-delicious sounding cake too!

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  12. this cake is gorgeous!!!! and it is so fascinating to hear about your life growing up. that is so cool that you lived in those places. many cheers to your mum!!

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  13. What lovely words, and such a gorgeous recipe. Mom's really are what make the world go round and I know I'd be lost without mine.. Cake makes the world go round too, so a perfect pairing I'd say!

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  14. This looks so, incredibly delicious - and not to mention beautiful! My mouth is watering. I'm a chocoholic, can you tell...?

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  15. Such beautiful words. I got the shivers. Happy Birthday to your mom! I live close to The Hague actually, I moved here from Italy two years ago, but despite this town being really beautiful and life being much easier here in the Netherlands, I yet have to find a place to call home. I feel like this isn't it. Hopefully I will find it in the (near) future :)

    Oh, and the cake.. looks delicious!

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  16. This looks and sounds wonderful, thank you! Mine comes out of the oven in 15 minutes. But please do note that the 1/2 cup oil is omitted from the directions (just in the ingredients list), and vice versa for the salt. Hopeful that mine without the oil will still work alright ... Maybe you can can correct for future others.

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    Replies
    1. Oh no! Sorry about that. I went back and corrected the recipe. Thanks for pointing it out!

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  17. Do you have any suggestions for things to use instead of coffee? I don't do coffee but the cake looks amazing!

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    1. You can use boiling water instead of coffee, but I highly recommend you use coffee. I don't drink too much caffeine, but coffee has the knack for bringing out chocolate flavor in baked goods.

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  18. Just came across your site, and so happy I did! This post is lovely - both the cake and your writing about your mom. Definitely resonated with me and spoke to my relationship with my own mama. Looking forward to reading more!

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  19. Help! :) I'm supposed to be baking this on Friday but I need a bit of assistance with two of the ingredients.
    " •1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
    •2 tablespoons light corn syrup"
    a) how much is that butter amount in grams? b) what can I substitute light corn syrup with, corn syrups are really difficult to find in Finland. Could I use normal syrup? or is the corn syrup there for some special consistency.
    I don't really have access to buttermilk or half-and-half either, but I guess I can use fatty milk there... ?
    Thank you so much!

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    Replies
    1. Hi there,

      1 stick of butter = 4 ounces = 113 grams.

      Corn syrup could be substituted with Golden Syrup, which is British I've seen available in European groceries. Alternatively, you could use honey, agave nectar, or light molasses, but this will most likely change the original flavor of the cake.

      For half-and-half, use 1/8 cup whole milk + 1/8 cup heavy cream. For buttermilk, you can make it yourself by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of milk, and allow the milk to sit at room temperature for half an hour.

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    2. Oh wow, I did NOT know that about buttermilk :) many thanks for all the tips! (my mom&sister won our bet concerning Olympic medals and the prize was any kind of cake you want. My sis wants chocolate :) Also Saturday is International Women's day)

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  20. Was this the cake stand you were talking about at Castanga? It's super cute. Enjoyed the photos and the cake sounds delicious.

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  21. What a lovely birthday gift for your mom... the cake, but more importantly the story of all she did for you... gorgeous stuff. Isn't blogging wonderful to be able to share such memories? I just discovered your blog... will follow your adventures, and can't wait!

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  22. What if I increase this cake batter 50% for a three-layer cake? Is this ill-advised? I certainly trust your skills and am loving the chocolately, understated but intense nature of this beautiful cake :) I'm making it for a crowd, I don't want to let them down! Thank you!

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    Replies
    1. I've never done it myself, but it's certainly worth a shot! I wish I were more useful. Let me know how it works out for you!

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    2. I found this http://www.thekitchn.com/make-it-double-best-tips-for-making-double-batches-of-muffins-cookies-breads-180249 and will make sure to keep an eye on my baking soda ratios when increasing the yield. I'm going for it! Will report back :)

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    3. x1.5 the recipe worked beautifully! It was a tall cake, perfect for a crowd, and thankfully the frosting was sturdy enough to hold toweringly tall slices together well. I filled the three layers with raspberry, kept the frosting recipe the same quantity and just used it to frost the outside, but there was more than enough for that. I chilled it overnight to help in transport, then let it sit out for two hours before serving -- three hours would have been better. The frosting was indeed a dream to work with! I like how I could wait for it to be any consistency I preferred before beginning to spread. A fun afternoon project :)

      I loved the creme fraiche in there and the cake itself was so chocolatey. I'll totally make this beauty again! Thanks, Michelle :)

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